Playing goalie in Philadelphia is probably the closest experience to hell on earth. It’s a thankless job that very few players can excel at. The team finally has a starting goaltender in Carter Hart, but finding a worthwhile backup to ride shotgun with the 23-year-old has been a difficult task. Martin Jones was brought in last summer as a rehab project when he reunited with former coach Kim Dillabaugh. The experiment failed and now the organization will once again have to find a new backup for the 2022-23 season.
Luckily, with Carter Hart playing like the stud we all know he can be, the pressure isn’t as intense to find a top quality backup as it was last summer when his play was in question, but they need someone who can rise to the occasion when called upon for a full season.
In the System
Sandstrom feels like the heir to the throne in the current crop of Flyers’ goalie prospects. He’s patrolled the Phantoms crease all season, and despite his pedestrian 3.04 goals against average and .897 save percentage with a 12-15-4 record, the numbers aren’t quite telling the story of how good he’s been on a fairly lackluster Phantoms squad. He did post 43 saves in lone NHL game this season in an overtime loss to the Sharks in December. It would be better if he had a few more NHL starts under his belt before being gifted the backup title, but the job may be his to lose next year.
When he was a rookie in 2019-20, Ustimenko seemed to have the upper hand on his counterpart Sandstrom, but after a hip injury that required surgery during the 2020 season, he has fallen to the back of the line. He’s bounced back and forth between the ECHL and AHL during the 2021-22 season. He posted a 2.91 GAA and .900 SV% in eight contests with the Phantoms this season. Chances are he becomes a full-time regular in Lehigh next season and will be reassessed this time next year.
The hype 22-year-old Samuel Ersson carried with him during his North American debut was derailed by a season-long injury. He only suited up for five AHL games with a 2.96 goals against average and .893 save percentage. Even in a small sample size his play was rather impressive, but any progress he made will be delayed until next season when he’ll once again have a chance to take the reins in Lehigh Valley.
The longtime backup in Columbus just underwent season-ending hip surgery, which also happens to be just months before his current contract expires. His last deal paid him $2.8 million a season. Korpisalo had a rough 2021-22 campaign where he posted a putrid 4.15 goals against average and .877 save percentage, marking the third consecutive season his numbers have gotten worse. He could be a worthwhile option as a rehab project on a better team than the Blue Jackets, but tread lightly when it comes to pursuing him in free agency.
After a few down years in Vancouver after almost a decade in Washington, the 32-year-old Braden Holtby is in the middle of his best statistical season since 2016-17 with a 2.78 goals against average and .913 save percentage. 23-year-old Jake Oettinger is clearly the future in Dallas so for the Stars, they’ll actively be in the backup market too. If Holtby does indeed leave the Lone Star state during the summer, he should be high on the priority list for the Flyers.
The 36-year-old Thomas Greiss was supposedly a name the Flyers circled on during the 2020 offseason, but his price tag of $3.6 million was too rich for the Flyers’ blood. He’s posting one of the first real unsavory seasons of his career as a backup in Detroit with a lackluster 3.79 GAA and .885 SV%. Does this season indicate a potential decline or can it be chalked up to the play of the Red Wings? He’s been one of the more reliable backups in the last decade in the NHL, so if he decides to continue his career, don’t be surprised if the Flyers circle back on the Füssen, Germany native.
While the future of Fleury is still up in the air, if he is interested in giving it one more kick at the can, the Flyers throwing their hat in the ring is an enticing opportunity. One of the major things that has kept teams away from him over the last few seasons is his $7 million cap hit, but with that contract expiring, he may be a hot commodity if he decides to return. While he would need to settle for a backup role in Philly, giving Carter Hart the opportunity to sit under Fleury’s learning tree is a one-of-a-kind chance that shouldn’t be overlooked.
In the ultimate irony, the Flyers could acquire New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood to backup Carter Hart. The young goalies have been compared quite a bit in their fledgling careers, but Hart has had the upper hand lately. If the Devils do decide to part ways with the 25-year-old, it’ll probably be for a big price to a needy team, but the idea of a Hart/Blackwood tandem is a fascinating concept. And getting to own a Devils fan or two may be worth it. Blackwood is under contract for one more season at a $2.8 million cap hit.
The trade rumors surrounding Georgiev have been swirling for the last few seasons, but now that he’s a pending restricted free agent the Rangers may finally part with the 26-year-old. There’s a good chance a team in far more desperate need of a goaltender ultimately lands Georgiev, but he provides a solid tandem partner for Hart and they’ll be able to sleep easy knowing two very good goaltenders will be paroling the crease in Philly for years to come.
The longtime Carolina Hurricanes prospect finally found an NHL home with the Detroit Red Wings, but it may not be a permanent position. With a couple talented prospects in the system, and a price tag on everyone of the roster it’s possible prying Nedeljkovic out of Detroit isn’t impossible. He’s got one year left on his current contract at a $3 million cap hit, so he’s be on the more expensive end of options for the Flyers, but at 26 years old, it provides a younger long-term tandem option with Carter Hart.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: washingtonpost.com / pucksandpitchforks.com / nhl.com